Taking precautions for wood burning safety is an absolute must when you have a fireplace or wood stove in your home. No matter if you use it as your main heat source or as a supplemental heat source to lower utility bills there is a potential for the unthinkable to happen. It is always better to be proactive rather than reactive and take precautions to protect your family!
In my scrolling through the World Wide Web, I came across an article from the CSIA (Chimney Safety Institute of America) about wood burning safety that was short, sweet, and to the point. According to the CSIA these are the steps that wood burners should take to keep their homes safe from the potential danger of a chimney or structure fire.
The following precautions should be taken no matter if you have a masonry chimney or a Class A chimney system. Each type of chimney needs attention and maintenance on a yearly basis.
Top 9 Precautions to take when Burning Wood
1) Have your Chimney Inspected Annually
You should have your chimney inspected by a professional at least once a year. I would recommend having it done before the temperatures begin to drop so that way if any issues are found you have time to have them fixed before needing to use the chimney.
The CSIA recommends that you use a CSIA certified chimney sweep. A chimney sweep who is certified through the CSIA has earned the industry’s most respected credential by passing an intensive examination of fire codes, clearances and standards for the construction and maintenance of the different venting systems.
2) Keep the Chimney Clean
Keeping your chimney clean is a big factor in the functionality of the chimney. If you have excessive build-up in your chimney it will begin to affect the chimney’s ability to draft properly. It will also increase the risk of a chimney fire. The build-up of creosote is extremely flammable and could catch fire by just one floating spark.
The frequency of chimney cleanings will depend on how often you use the wood burner. A cleaning should be performed before lighting the first fire of the season and then as often as needed throughout the season. If you can see a ¼” of creosote build-up it is time to clean it! Cleanings ca be done by a professional or there are DIY Cleaning Methods that the average homeowner can perform very easily.
Read more on How to Clean Class A Chimney Pipe here!
3) Give your Chimney Room
A chimney will exhaust a small amount of heat but it could also be an exhaust for some floating embers. The embers are no different than the ones that float off of an outdoor bonfire. This could cause a potential danger to any branches or other combustible materials that are close to the chimney.
Recommended precautions are to cut back any branches and remove or protect all combustibles that are in a 15 Ft. radius of the chimney. This will help to protect your home and property from a potential fire. Creating this space free of obstructions for your chimney could also help it to draft properly.
4) Install a Chimney Cap
As mentioned above, flying embers can cause potential dangers to surrounding combustibles. Installing a chimney cap with a spark arrestor will help to contain the embers inside of the chimney system.
A chimney cap will also keep small animals or debris from entering the chimney system causing an obstruction which will prevent the smoke from exhausting properly. If the smoke is unable to get out through the chimney it will eventually start to back up into the home and then you are at risk of Carbon Monoxide poisoning.
Click here to learn more about How a Chimney Cap Protects Masonry Chimneys from Potential Damages!
5) Burn the Right Firewood
Choosing the right firewood to burn is one of the top wood burning precautions because the type of firewood that you burn will contribute to the amount of creosote that could build-up in the chimney system.
Soft woods like pine have higher moisture content and will create more creosote than burning hard woods like oak or maple. No matter the wood that you choose make sure that it has been properly seasoned or kiln dried. NEVER burn green wood or freshly cut wood.
All of the wood that you burn should have been split and stacked neatly for at least 9-12 months. Do not buy firewood sight unseen. If you do not cut your own would it is important that you see the wood to ensure that it has been seasoned properly. Store your firewood raised off the ground and stacked in rows neatly so that it gets adequate air flow through it. A firewood rack is the best option for storing firewood.
6) Build a Fire Properly
If using a fireplace, build your fire on a fireplace grate. This will allow adequate air flow to get to all sides of the logs for a more efficient burn. Place the fireplace grate 3” from the back of the firebox and make sure that you have 3” of clearance on each side of the grate as well to get the best air flow as possible. If your grate does not meet these clearances it is too big for your firebox.
When burning in a wood stove most of the time there will not be a grate. So you will want to place the logs in the middle of the firebox so that when the air vents are open the air flow will get to all sides of the logs for an even burn. Stagger the logs, leaving gaps when stacking them.
Never use liquids to assist in starting a fire. Only use firestarters and proper kindling when starting a fire indoors or out for that matter. Do not burn Christmas trees, paper, treated wood, or anything other than firewood in your wood burner.
7) Keep the Hearth Tidy
The hearth is not the place for combustible materials! If you want to keep some wood, kindling, or firestarters near your hearth you should keep them far enough away from the firebox opening that they will not create a fire risk. If a spark or ember pops out of the firebox and lands on to the nearby supplies they could very easily cause a fire in your home.
Firewood Racks are great for storing firewood indoors as well as outdoors. Use a hearth rack to keep everything in a convenient place near the hearth but far enough away from the firebox opening.
Clean up any fallen debris or ash as soon as you see it. Having some fireplace tools on hand for this is a great idea. The broom and shovel will allow you to scoop it up and dispose of it in a safe place.
8) Contain Popping Embers
Keep embers in the firebox with a Fireplace Screen. By placing a fireplace screen in front of your firebox you will be protecting the surrounding area from possible damages. If an ember pops out and lands on the hearth or flooring it will cause some damages and could possibly cause it to catch fire if left there long enough.
If you have a wood stove this is not as big of a concern. Embers only have a chance of popping out when you have the door open to load it with wood. Just be careful that an ember doesn’t get out and cause damage to your floor or hearth. You can also minimize the risk of damages by laying down a hearth pad or fireplace rug to protect the flooring.
9) Have Smoke Detectors Installed
Make sure that you have working smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors installed throughout the home. You should be checking the batteries in these detectors twice a year. I check mine when I change the clocks for Daylight Savings. It has just become a routine twice a year and is a good reminder of when to check them.
10) Never Leave the Fire Unattended
Never leave an open fire unattended. This goes for burning in your fireplace and a wood stove. You should not use a fireplace for overnight burning. There is too much potential for disaster to occur. Especially if there is not a fireplace screen or a set of fireplace doors installed. Make sure that if you are leaving the home or going to bed that the fire is out completely before you go.
For a fire in a wood stove you should make sure that the fire is going well enough for the stove to be locked down for the night. Close all of the air vents and the damper stop the air flow to the fire. This will allow you to keep producing heat without feeding the fire.
I know during this time of year we really hammer on about fire safety, precautions to take, and what to do or not to do. It is because there are so many potentials for tragedy during the colder months. We just want our customers and readers to be as knowledgeable as possible so that you can take all of the precautions possible to keep your family safe in your homes all while enjoying the wonderful heat that burning wood offers.